Special Collections has thousands of free online digital objects for use in your virtual classrooms.
Our digital materials are organized by type:
Digital Collections. A digital collection is a set of digital objects with minimal supporting information. These are either entire collections, or parts of collections that have been digitized and posted on our site with basic descriptive information such as collection description, title, date, and subject of object. We have 39 collections online, with materials ranging from Catholic University’s yearbook, The Cardinal, to The Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact Catholic comic book.
Digital Exhibits. Digital Exhibits are selections of digitized materials curated by Archives staff. Our trained staff, in addition to guests from various University departments, have curated several online digital exhibits for public use. These range from historical tours of the University campus to selections from our collections related to Irish nationalism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Rare Books. The holdings of the Rare Books Collection, some 70,000 volumes, range from medieval documents to first editions of twentieth-century books. We certainly don’t have all of these materials digitized, but you can find some of the rare books collection online.
Special Collections also has a limited capacity to digitize on demand, and we may have digitized materials available, though not yet online. Please contact Maria Mazzenga, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have a request for a specific set of digital materials for use in your classes. Special collections staff are available for virtual assistance, just email us at email@example.com with your requests.
An Apostleship of the Laity: The St. Vincent de Paul Society
Later this month, a mosaic of Blessed Antoine Frédéric Ozanam will be dedicated in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington, D.C. At that time, members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will gather in celebration of their 175th year of existence. Though the Society’s name comes from their patron Saint, Vincent de Paul, a seventeenth century servant of the poor, Ozanam was the chief force behind the establishment of the organization in Paris, France, in 1833. As such, the Society became a member of the Vincentian Family, a group of Catholic organizations that includes the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.
Ozanam took his Catholic teaching seriously. A scholar of Catholic social doctrine, he was once accused of being all talk and no action. His response was to found a group of men whose goal was direct service to the impoverished of Paris. Soon after the founding, the members carried food and other necessities directly to the homes of the poor. Key to the Society’s identity is the “apostleship of the laity,” hence members were parish based and comprised of lay members who ministered to their own communities. Their 1834 annual report noted that:
We understand very well that charity must be done in secret, that the work must be unobtrusive. Here we are not strangers to one another; what we have done has been accomplished with the cooperation of one another. The principal end of our association is to do everything with one heart and one soul, of a sort that we recount to one another the different services we have delivered not to be adulated but to give advice and mutual encouragement, to give better service.
Reflecting the necessity for such services, particularly in a rapidly industrializing world, the Society expanded rapidly outside of France. When Bishop John Timon of Buffalo, serving in St. Louis at the time, visited France and saw the work of the Society, he went about establishing the group’s first conference in St. Louis, Missouri in 1845.
The Society’s rule called for “visiting the poor in their dwellings” and the distribution of “moral and religious books” especially to children, but in the United States, these activities expanded from activities like supplying food to needy families and distributing rosary beads to running thrift shops, day nurseries, and youth camps, visiting nursing homes, among other activities.
The National Council in the United States began sponsoring foreign Councils in third world countries with its twinning program during the 1970s-1990s. Long-serving executive secretary Dudley Baker served thirty years, from 1955-1985, and helped establish many modern charitable organizations. Baker not only aided several presidents during his tenure, but also helped to modernize the society in America. Though the society in America has focused on disaster relief throughout its history, a greater emphasis has been placed on this recently, especially through the training of Rev. Ronald Ramson and the National Council’s Charity Seminars.
The Society is organized into five levels. The first level is the International Council in Paris, France that oversees the organization throughout the world. The second level is the National Council, which oversees each individual country’s society. The third level is the Diocesan Councils, of which there are 51 in the United States that oversee individual Councils in the society. The fourth level is the District council which oversees all the individual conferences throughout the United States. Lastly, at the fifth level are the conferences, based on the parish level. Headquartered in St. Louis, the Society has nearly 100,000 members in the U.S., and more than 800,000 members worldwide.
The Society’s records offer an extensive collection of organizational files, but includes also publications and audio-visual equipment from the society. Among the files are organizational correspondence, records from executive meetings, yearly reports and bulletins, membership files for the society and regional files from different councils, and financial files for the Society’s thrift stores. Many of these materials date back to the beginning of the Society in the United States. Also, there are videotapes and audiotapes of society meetings.
See the finding aid for the records of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul here
For blogposts on other Catholic charitable activities, see these posts on Monsignor John O’Grady, pioneer in Catholic charity: https://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/9465/ and https://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/9315/ as well as this post on the history of the National Catholic School of Social Work at The Catholic University of America: https://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/10957/
 Raymond Sickinger, Antoine Frédéric Ozanam (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017), chapter 3, “The Society of St. Vincent de Paul,” 61-62.
 The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, Michael Glazier and Thomas Shelley, eds. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997) p. 1249-1251.:
The Rare Books Collection at The Catholic University of America contains many treasures among its 70,000 volumes, ranging from medieval documents to first editions of twentieth century authors. Among these are nearly 300 Catholic catechetical texts: written works containing summaries of the beliefs of the Catholic faith compiled as teaching tools.
In one sense, these texts, which span from 1566 to the 1980s, are remarkably similar. The Catholic catechism has contained the same several parts for nearly 500 years: The Apostles Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, discussion of the seven sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, the Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Extreme Unction), and the Lord’s Prayer. But there were slight tweaks to the catechism over time. For example, as Berard Marthaler points outs, a “medieval fascination with numbers” caused theologian Hugh St. Victor to organize doctrine into units of seven as a mnemonic device. Hence, catechetical teaching of the time featured doctrine organized into units of seven: the seven capital sins, seven petitions to in the Lord’s Prayer, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven Beatitudes, and seven virtues.
By the Tridentine Era, so called for the Council of Trent that took place 1545-1563, a basic formula for the catechism was issued by the Council. This was partly due to the rise of Protestantism in Europe in the sixteenth century, but also due to a desire to teach the fundamentals of the faith on a regular basis using a uniform text. The Tridentine Catechism issued by the Council of Trent in 1566 contained the basics of the modern catechism: Apostles Creed, seven sacraments, Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.
The uniform content of most of the catechisms produced after 1566, however, did not mean they would all look exactly the same. Coinciding with the rise of the printing press in Europe, the catechism could be reproduced in multiple languages, and with a variety of designs.
By the twentieth century, Pius X (Pope from 1903-1914) turned his attention to improving catechetical instruction once again, and emphasized greater uniformity in such instruction, and instruction in the sacraments at younger ages. Certainly, this would be more feasible as literacy spread throughout the Christian world, and as small, portable catechisms became easier to produce. The catechisms, uniform as they are in general content, reflect the cultures and trends from which they emerged.
Our tale begins with the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. Our key figure is that of Agustín de Iturbide, who reigned as the emperor of Mexico from 1822 to early 1823, following the ten-year period of warfare and instability that culminated in Mexican independence. Iturbide, who advocated breaking away from Spain, also embraced monarchy and strong ties to the Catholic Church. Initially popular and a successful unifier of diverse groups favoring independence, Iturbide I was forced to abdicate in March 1823 as a result of corruption and opposition to monarchism within the government and the general population. He left for Europe with his family, but was executed in 1824 after returning to Mexico in answer to requests from his supporters to free the country from Spanish forces remaining in Veracruz and a possible reinvasion. Iturbide’s overthrow and the abolition of the empire did not prevent his supporters from viewing his family as an imperial one.
Agustín de Iturbide y Green was the son of Emperor Agustin’s second son, Ángel María de Iturbide y Huarte (1816 –1872), who met his mother, Alice Green, while serving as an attaché of the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. Green (1836–1892) was the daughter of Captain John Nathaniel Green, granddaughter of U.S. Congressman and Revolutionary War Colonel Uriah Forrest, and great-granddaughter of George Plater, the sixth Governor of Maryland.
Born in 1863, Agustín de Iturbide y Green was Ángel and Alice’s only child, which bestowed significance on the boy, at least in the eyes of Maximilian I, the European Habsburg-descended emperor of the Second Mexican Empire installed by France’s Napoleon III in 1864. But Maximilian’s power was unstable from the beginning, with his regime requiring continuous French military support amid repudiation among the local Mexican population. In an effort to curry favor with the Mexicans, he compelled Ángel and Alice Iturbide to cede their two-year-old son Agustín as a future heir, believing that having a child of imperial Mexican lineage as an heir would increase his legitimacy.
Timing is everything, as they say—the U.S. was so preoccupied with its Civil War that it barely reacted to the French invasion of its southern neighbor, at least initially. France withdrew the forces propping up Maximilian in 1866 partly because the post-Civil War U.S. beqan asserting the terms of the Monroe Doctrine, and partly for its own reasons, with the forces of Mexico’s Benito Juarez eventually overthrowing the European emperor. Maximilian was arrested and executed in June of 1867.
But what of young Agustín de Iturbide y Green? Perhaps you are wondering about how Ángel and Alice managed to hand over their only son to an emperor installed by the French? Well, first, they were certainly convinced that their son, the grandson of the first emperor of independent Mexico, was part of a new imperial lineage based on European practices of succession. Failing one of Agustin I’s own children succeeding him as emperor (imperial Mexican forces lacked the military power to back up such a claim, while Napoleon III put French troops behind Maximilian), perhaps they saw it as the best option at the time—setting their son up as a future emperor. We do not know their exact thinking for sure. They did receive a pension for handing over the child. However, Alice quickly became distraught by the absence of her son, and went about trying to get him back. She and Ángel were exiled after her pleas for the return of her son fell on deaf ears in Maximilian’s court. They eventually came back to the U.S., where Alice appealed to Secretary of State William Seward, who told her that he could do nothing, as she had signed adoption papers, but nonetheless worked diplomatic channels to arrange a visit in Europe between Alice and Maximilian’s wife, Empress Carlota (Charlotte of Belgium) to return her child. Carlota, too, rejected Alice’s entreaties.
When it was clear to Maximilian that he was doomed, he sent the then four-year-old Agustín to Havana, Cuba, to be reunited with his parents. They returned to Washington, D.C., where Ángel and Alice worked at the Mexican embassy. After his Father died in 1872, Alice raised Agustín, who eventually became a professor of languages at Georgetown University. Two years after Alice died in 1892, Agustín married a British woman, Lucy Eleanor Jackson, though the marriage did not last.
As an adult, Agustín lived near the family of Louise Kearney, a D.C.-born daughter of the Brigadier General James Kearney. When he began showing interest in Louise over her sister, Estelle, the latter did everything she could to keep the two apart. Louise writes in her account of their meeting, “there is no trouble like family trouble, and nothing more incurable than the mental disease of jealousy,” the sisters “were too closely united to be pulled apart without pain.” Despite her family’s disapproval, Louise and Agustín married on July 5, 1915. They remained married until his death in 1925 from tuberculosis. Louise would live until 1967.
As for how the papers ended up at the Archives: Louise Kearney loved to travel. Msgr. James Magner, who performed many roles on campus and left the Archives a substantial museum collection, often took groups around the world to see a variety of holy sites. Louise accompanied one such group to Europe in 1950 and became friends with Magner. Louise donated the Kearney-Iturbide collection to the Archives via the Magner collection.
Please see the Finding Aid to the Iturbide-Kearney Papers.
I recently presented on our Washington, D.C.-related collections at the Conference on High Impact Research held at American University here in the District. I was asked simply to talk about collections in the Archives related to Washington, D.C. The audience was an interdisciplinary group of academics at American University. As a participant, I learned about collections at the DC Public Library, George Washington University, and American University, but I also compiled a list of our own D.C.-related collections, something we surprisingly hadn’t done until now. Of our 431 manuscript collections, 13 have materials related to D.C. Our D.C. collection materials date back to the eighteenth century with the Brooks-Queen Family Collection, and extend into the 1990s with the Paul Philips Cooke Papers.
We like to say that “if it’s Catholic and it’s national, we probably have it,” because we have so many collections related to national Catholic history. However, we also have some local records of interest to researchers seeking insight into local Catholic life. The records of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Washington, D.C., for example, document the efforts of this Catholic institution to attend to the spiritual and material wants of the poor in the city from the 1940s through the 1960s. Other Catholic records include those of Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C. and the Washington Catholic Evidence Guild.
Our local materials are not exclusively Catholic. The Brooks-Queen collection is comprised of materials related to the founding families of Washington, D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood. Another Brookland-related collection is the Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection, which contains hundreds of letters from Woodson’s husband and daughter to Woodson, who lived with her family in Brookland in the early twentieth century.
Nor are our local materials exclusively documents. The archives has digitized more than a thousand images from the collection of Terence Vincent Powderly, most of them related to Washington, D.C. and the vicinity. Better known as the head of the Knights of Labor, a union whose membership swelled under his leadership in the 1880s, Powderly was also an amateur photographer. Powderly lived in Washington, D.C. in the early twentieth century, when he served in a variety of bureaucratic posts.
Powderly photographed a great variety of subjects bearing on social, economic, and political life at the turn of the century in both Europe and America, but of the 1300 images that are digitized, 900 are related to Washington, D.C., where Powderly lived from 1897 until his death in 1924.
For a full list of the Washington, D.C.-related collections, see:
This semester, we said goodbye to Dr. Timothy Meagher, University Archivist and Curator of the American Catholic History Collection at The Catholic University of America. In addition to his service as University Archivist, Meagher was Associate Professor with the Catholic University History Department, where he regularly taught Irish-American and immigration history. Though we will miss him at the Archives, we know he will be happily plugging away at his magnum opus in his “retirement”: a comprehensive history of Irish America.
Provenance is a word archivists love. It refers to the origin of a collection of archival materials, yes, but embedded in those origins is identity. For this reason, archivists use provenance as an organizing principle for their records and collections. In other words, we try to maintain and organize materials as faithfully as we can to the intention of the original creator and/or organizer of the collection, in order to preserve the integrity and identity of the collection itself.
Meagher’s own origins are manifest in his career. Certainly, his own Irish and Catholic ancestry inspired his study of Irish America. But he also occupied a unique position as both an academic historian and a public one. While completing his Ph.D. in history at Brown University in the early 1980s, he taught history in his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts. But after four years, that job ended and he found himself unemployed. “There were no historian jobs,” he says of the time. So he improvised. There was a position as Assistant Archivist at the Archdiocese of Boston Archives. “Jim O’Toole was there, a historian himself getting a Ph.D. from Boston College.” The two formed a lasting friendship, with O’Toole becoming a prominent scholar of both archival practice and American Catholicism and who in fact, has served on our archives’ advisory board since its inception in 2002. For Meagher’s part, he saw that there were potentially multiple uses for the skills of a historian.
In the late 1980s, Meagher made his way from Boston to Washington, D.C., where he had years earlier graduated with his Bachelor’s in History from Georgetown University. His interest in public history was now heightened by both his work in archives and a concurrent rejuvenation in the museum field, especially in the area of exhibition and public programming. He speaks fondly of his work with the National Endowment for the Humanities, where he served as Program Officer until accepting his post at Catholic University. The NEH required those who worked in public history institutions to work directly with relevant scholars in the academy, “we had historians and museum people coming in and evaluating the quality of the exhibits we funded—there were some great conversations.”
Having spent seven years making humanities scholarship accessible to broader audiences, Meagher decided it was time to move on. He was particularly interested in the museum collection at the University Archives when he began working here in 1997. From the start, his primary mission was using the archival materials in our collections to teach history to a variety of audiences. “There was a move within the Catholic Church at that point to save material culture.” At the time, few in the field of Catholic archives knew much about preserving sacred objects, so Meagher organized the Saving Sacred Things conference in 1999 to address the matter.
Drawing from his experiences working with professionals in a range of cultural institutions, Meagher expanded the Archives’ outreach and educational programming dramatically. “I was aware that there were other places doing public outreach in archives. I knew people at NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] and other places who put together educational packets using their archival materials.” So he worked with staff and teachers to put together packets related to a variety of aspects of Catholic history for Catholic high school students with materials from our archive. These formed the basis of the now fully digital American Catholic History Classroom an online education site featuring hundreds of digital documents, photos, and teaching resources. “We were trying to teach young people how historians solve historical problems. To look at source material and figure out what happened. We tried to do it with this material related specifically to Catholic life. No one else was doing it on a broad basis. A whole dimension of American life, we wanted to fill it with good history. Our collections lend themselves to understanding national Catholic history.”
Today, the Archives’ outreach and educational programming is thriving. Thank you, Professor Meagher!
This semester I had the pleasure of processing the Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection, a set of papers donated to the Archives by Tierney O’Neil via Robert Andrews last year. We call this a collection, by the way, because these are not a full set of papers related to Cecilia Woodson, rather, they are a set of materials she, deceased 79 years now, curated herself.
Did I write Cecilia Parker Woodson? I meant to write Cecil. Cecil was what her husband, Walter, and all of her friends called her, because that is what she wanted to be called. And now, after reading the hundreds of letters written to her between 1891 and 1920, I feel like I know her too, though she died decades before I was born. The first set of letters Cecil saved were the love letters sent to her by her traveling salesman husband Walter, and they offer a wonderful window into late nineteenth century courtship practices and social life in their native Virginia and Washington, D.C.
One thing I would not call Cecil is “Dear Little Mama,” though most of the letters addressed to her in this collection open with just that salutation. The most voluminous correspondence in these collected papers are from Cecil’s daughter, Charlotte “Lottie” Virginia Woodson. Lottie left the family nest over on Monroe Street here in Brookland for Lima, Peru at the age of twenty-one. Cecil’s best friend Mary and her husband William Montavon, better known to Lottie as Aunt Mayme and Uncle Will, asked Cecil and Walter if they could take Lottie to Lima when Uncle Will was assigned a two-year diplomatic post there in 1916. Lottie was terribly eager to take the trip, and sailed off from New York City to Lima in February of that year. Her letters home chronicle the life of a young woman living in the foreign diplomatic set just before and during the First World War. There were teas, dinners, dances and decisions about the most appropriate footwear for the occasion, and Lottie writes “Dear Little Mama” about all of it. She even coyly describes her own courtship with another young diplomat, Victor Louis Tyree, who happened to also hail from Washington, D.C. The two were married in 1918 in Lima and made plans to move to La Paz, Bolivia afterward, when Victor was offered a better paying job with Denniston and Company after their marriage.
Dear reader, this story does not end well. I’ll admit that I teared up when I read the telegram dated July 31, 1918: “BABY GIRL TWENTY THIRD CHARLOTTE DIED TWENTY EIGHT PULMONARY HEMORRHAGE CAUSED BY MEASLES.” Charlotte was pregnant soon after her marriage and she died in La Paz, just after giving birth to Merle Virginia Tyree. Not a week later, baby Merle died as well. Victor writes a long letter to Cecil describing the birth and death in heartbreaking detail. The letter had been read so many times it is falling apart. After a handful of condolence letters, Cecil’s collection of correspondence pretty much ends, as if she just didn’t have the heart to save any more letters, or perhaps she received so few after that it didn’t seem worth it. She lived twenty-two more years, however, dying in 1940 at the age of 76.
Cecil saved the letters others wrote her, and she saved many beautiful photos of her family, as well as those Lottie sent her from Peru. But there is only one letter handwritten by the collector herself. And it appears to be a draft of a note she was going to send to her daughter to congratulate her on her engagement. “How can I relinquish my claim on you my own darling little girlie?,” she writes, “God bless you both and if your lives are spared, may you both in the years to come be as happy in each other as now.” There isn’t even a photograph of Cecil herself in the collection. Still, the strength and generosity of the woman emerge in the letters written to her and her life was a full one, tragedies and all.
You can view the finding aid to the Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection here:
The year 1919 could be termed a grim one. The First World War had ended in November, 1918, true, but the combatants were still taking measure of that frightful conflict. With more than 70 million people mobilized to fight, more than 16 million had died as a direct result of the war, with another 50 to 100 million dying as a result of the 1918 influenza pandemic. A “Red Scare” gripped the United States, as fear of communist agitation rippled through the country in the wake of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
These more immediate happenings occurred in the context of long term changes in social and economic life that had accelerated during the previous century. The industrial revolutions transformed the nature of work, the landscape of cities, and the lives of peoples displaced by the changing economy. Pope Leo XIII had addressed the meaning of such changes for Catholics in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, noting that “new developments industry, new techniques striking out on new paths, changed relations of employer and employee” had led to “a decline of morals and caused conflict to break forth.” Many Catholics in the United States and elsewhere sought to address how their religion might address social and economic transformation.
When the National Catholic War Council led by the United States bishops formed in 1917, their chief aim was to assist the millions of Catholics mobilizing for the First World War. However, when the war ended it became clear that a national Catholic organization designed to coordinate activities among the nation’s faithful would prove useful. In 1919 the bishops changed the name of their young organization to the National Catholic Welfare Council and began discussing a Catholic plan for postwar America.
The National Catholic War Council, like many social and religious groups of the time, was eager to offer a Catholic plan for postwar America of its own. In April of 1918 the bishops established a Committee for Reconstruction. The war ended on November 11, 1918, however, sooner than the Committee could forge their plan. The Committee’s secretary, Catholic charity expert Rev. John O’Grady had only the vaguest notions of what its plan should look like at that time. O’Grady, panicking in early December because he needed a plan immediately, turned to Father John A. Ryan, who had written a book on living wage issues and studied social reform extensively, to write a program. Ryan at first resisted then agreed and dictated the Program to a typist two days later. Ryan’s program was pushed quickly through the administrative structure of the War Council and approved by the Committee’s bishops. The program called for government insurance for the sick, unemployed and aged; labor’s participation in industrial management; public housing; unions’ right to organize, and a “living wage” for all workers. The Program’s publicist, Larkin Mead, set a release date for it: February 12, 1919, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
The Program was called then, and forever after would be called, the “Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction,” the implication being that it represented the entire church’s views on the remaking of America in the postwar era. That claim was disputed by some, because the War Council’s authority to issue such a sweeping statement on behalf of the whole church was questioned. Some Catholic prelates and business groups opposed the bishops’ plan on the grounds that it was too radical. William Cardinal O’Connell of Boston, for example, believed some aspects of the plan were “socialistic,” a word often used to describe what was viewed as too much government involvement in American society and the economy. Many Americans were inclined to share O’Connell’s suspicions; the Red Scare in particular heightened fears of “Bolshevik” plots. As the 1920s progressed, Americans’ lost their appetite for Progressive reform, and critics of the Bishops’ plan gained traction. The kind of reformism advised in the Bishops’ Program would not find an audience again until the economy slid into the Depression in the 1930s.
“The need of the Catholic Social worker no one will question. There should be no question of the need of the TRAINED social worker. Social Service is today a PROFESSION. Motive and intention can inspire—but without KNOWLEDGE they can never achieve.”
National Catholic School of Social Service pamphlet, 1932
In researching the history of the National Catholic School of Social Service at Catholic University (NCSSS), I came across a pamphlet, from which the above quote jumped out at me. The words “trained,” “profession,” and “knowledge” were all capitalized, as if to emphasize that those who performed in the social work field required these elements of preparation in order to practice their work properly. Today, of course, we know this to be true, as do the many students and faculty who form the University’s prestigious school of social service. But in 1932, social work was just coming into its own as a profession. The earliest settlement houses were founded in New York and Chicago in the late nineteenth century to address the problems of poverty engendered during the Industrial revolution. By 1913, there were hundreds of settlement houses across the United States toward addressing social problems. But the question of training individuals as professional social workers was still being hashed out. When, Dr. Abraham Flexner claimed in 1915 that social work was not a “profession because it lacked specific application of theoretical knowledge to solving human issues,” the professionalization of social work began in earnest. Catholic University’s NCSSS is an important part of that history of professionalization.
The advent of the U.S. involvement in the First World War in 1917 saw large scale mobilization of a variety of social groups toward addressing wartime problems, Catholics among them. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops organized specifically to address wartime needs of Catholics. They immediately realized that wartime workers—especially women who served to provide services to soldiers and those dislocated by war—needed training to perform effectively both overseas and stateside. The origins of NCSSS lay in the training of women for war and reconstruction efforts both at home and abroad. It would have been simple to train these women on the campus of Catholic University here in Washington, D.C., but the University still did not admit women in 1918, when it was decided by the U.S. Bishops that a training school for wartime social service would be created. So “Clifton” was established through the efforts of Fathers John J. Burke and William Kerby in 1918 in the Georgetown Heights area of Washington, D.C. for this purpose. Run by the National Council of Catholic Women, the school’s first dean/director was Maud Romana Cavanaugh, an ambitious and energetic woman who managed to open the school on November 25, 1918. Cavanaugh served as early faculty, along with Catholic University faculty members, such as Father John Ryan, Father John O’Grady, and Father Kerby, all well-known for adapting Catholic teaching to American social problems. The earliest classes included “Catholic Principles in Social Work,” “Relief of Poverty,” and “Public Health.” Kerby, in particular, worked on creating a body of teaching and thought that wove the emerging theory in social service with Catholic social thought.
It became clear that the school would have to move, as the Clifton lease was running out, and the location was nearly two miles from any transportation line, making travel to and from the house difficult. A second site was found by Father Burke and faculty member Agnes Regan in the Mount Pleasant section of Washington, D.C., and the new National Catholic School of Social Service was established there in 1921. With the move, the brief training sessions at Clifton were replaced with a two year graduate program in social work. Under the directorship of Anne Nicholson, a curriculum review took place and a standardized course was developed for the school. After NCSSS was admitted to the American Association of Schools of Social Work, enrollment began to rise.
Keep in mind that the students lived at the school. This was by design: faculty believed that the students would develop a deeper sense of community if they resided in the same house. These years were especially festive and sought to be inclusive toward the broader community. At Christmas, for example, the students held a party for dozens of children from local institutions, many from where the students had done their field work. The parties featured and afternoon of games, candy, toys, and a visit from Santa Claus. Groups of students often gathered around the parlor piano and sang. Teas, picnics, and barbecues were common. Guests were almost always present for Sunday evening candle-light suppers, and the school was known for its delicious and nutritious food. The faculty at the time, Agnes Regan, Fathers John Ryan and John Burke, loved to gather and play bridge in the evenings.
NCSSS held a formal connection to Catholic University’s graduate school, and students received their degrees from the University, but by the late 1930s, the connection became more explicit. A separate School of Social Service was established at Catholic University in 1934 for priests, religious and lay men. Laywomen were admitted into the University’s graduate programs in 1930. This resulted in a revamping of the school’s policies that ultimately integrated the administration and degree-awarding structure of NCSSS into the broader University academic policies. While the two programs in social work ran parallel for a number of years, conferring slightly different degrees to its graduates, in 1939 NCSSS merged with Catholic University’s School of Social Service. From that year forward, graduates of the program received the same degrees. Though the two entities remained physically separate for several more years, in 1947, they merged and took the name of the National Catholic School of Social Service. NCSSS found its new and current physical home in Bishop Shahan Hall, which was dedicated in 1950.
 Loretto Lawler, Full Circle: The Story of the National Catholic School of Social Service (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1951), 17-24.
November 9-10 of this month marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the “night of broken glass.” The Kristallnacht pogrom against Jews by German Stormtroopers and German civilians took place across Germany in 1938, and is often viewed as the beginning of the Holocaust for its escalation of Jewish social and political persecution into overt physical brutality. More than one thousand synagogues and Jewish businesses were destroyed, at least 91 Jews were killed, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. The pogrom was condemned by many around the world, from politicians to representatives of all faiths. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt summoned home the American ambassador to Germany as a sign of U.S. disgust, saying he “could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth-century civilization.”
Not all Americans were critical of the Nazis’ activities against Jews. The German American Bund, for example, was a pro-Nazi organization established in the U.S. in 1936. More than 20,000 people attended a pro-Nazi rally organized by Bund leader Fritz Kuhn in February, 1939. Among Catholics, Father Charles Coughlin, the “radio priest,” was an anti-Semitic supporter of Nazi Germany with many millions of followers in the late 1930s. Anti-Judaism was in fact, widespread in the United States at the time.
Generally speaking, American Catholics were not known for coming to the defense of Jews in the U.S. in the 1930s, though the two religious groups could certainly sympathize with each other given that both anti-Catholicism and anti-Jewish sentiment were quite widespread in the U.S. at the time.
In fact, Archives staff were surprised about a decade ago to find a damaged album labeled “Catholic Protest Against the Nazis—November 16, 1938.” The album was badly damaged and the audio could only be retrieved by employing a sound specialist, which we did, in 2007. The recording turned out to be a 27-minute condemnation of the Nazi actions against the Jews during Kristallnacht by several American Catholic bishops, the rector of Catholic University, and a former Democratic presidential candidate. The broadcast took place a week after the pogrom, with both CBS and NBS networks carrying it across the United States, and The New York Times reprinting its text on its front page. Now we know that while Coughlin’s anti-Semitism existed and flourished in the 1930s, there was also another group of Catholics, including several members of the Catholic hierarchy, who found the actions of the Nazis toward the Jews reprehensible and stated it publicly.
The Broadcast was organized by Father Maurice Sheehy, Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Education at Catholic University and assistant to the Catholic University rector. Sheehy was an adept organizer who managed the university radio station, possessed many contacts within the church, in the Washington, D.C. community, and in national politics. Sheehy was joined in the broadcast by Archbishop John J. Mitty of San Francisco, California; Bishop John M. Gannon of Erie, Pennsylvania; Bishop Peter L. Ireton of Richmond, Virginia; former Democratic Presidential Candidate and Governor of New York, Alfred E. Smith, and Catholic University Rector, Monsignor Joseph M. Corrigan. The participants were selected to represent both lay Catholics (hence Smith’s inclusion) and clerical leaders’ unified view that the violence unleashed on Jews and Jewish property in Germany was immoral, contrary to Christian teaching and against American ideals of religious and civic freedom. They also compared the treatment of the Jews by the Germans to the persecutions of Catholics in Spain and Mexico.
Four days later, Father Charles Coughlin, the hugely popular Catholic “radio priest” from Michigan, went on the air to deliver a broadcast titled “Persecution – Jewish and Christian.” Claiming he would add his voice to those protesting the Nazi pogrom against Germany’s Jewish population of several days earlier, Coughlin instead offered a justification of the Nazi persecutions as a natural defense against an alleged Jewish-dominated communist movement. Coughlin also mocked the Catholic University-sponsored address of Archbishop John J. Mitty, referring to him sarcastically as the “Most intellectual Archbishop” and suggesting that the Catholic University broadcast participants cared more about the persecution of Jews than the welfare of Catholics.
The reactions to both broadcasts was substantial and intense, with hundreds of stories appearing in the media on each. The American Catholic History Classroom explores the broadcast, Coughlin’s response, and other documents here.